His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search. — The Merchant of Venice
When Cora Stallman’s inquest resumed on the last day of August 1925, it had been just three days since the last adjournment, but a full month since her death.
She had died at the zenith of summer; now, the people were looking toward fall. In Arcola, the broomcorn harvest was under way. Threshermen and hired hands were in high demand. The county fair was in two weeks. And for some, a new school year loomed.
Out on her sister’s farm, Cora’s cottage stood empty under the receding sun. When its screen door banged in a late summer wind, or the last swallows dipped between the porch pillars, she was no longer there to notice.
Cora was gone, but the business of her death remained unfinished. If the investigation itself were a tended crop, it too must be brought in for the year.
Continue reading “Cora: Wheat and Chaff (11)”
Thursday, Aug. 27, 1925. Coles County, IL
Untangling the events of Cora Stallman’s last day alive is no simple task.
The most obvious solution would be to get sheriff’s records or a transcript of the inquest testimony. Many years ago, I contacted the Coles County coroner’s office, hoping to do just that. The coroner himself was kind enough to search for me. Sadly, nearly all documents related to Cora’s case had disappeared in the intervening decades. “Sometimes the basement floods,” he said with some regret.
Continue reading “Cora: The Party Line (10)”
Thursday, Aug. 27, 1925. Humboldt, IL
On the first day of Cora Stallman’s inquest, Edith Lilley was in the witness chair twice. Both times she had plenty to tell — and yet, she hardly figures in the resulting newspaper accounts. Her testimony was mentioned only at the ends of articles, when it was mentioned at all. Maybe this oversight was due to when she testified, halfway through the event, after people had been sitting in the stuffy town hall for hours. Or maybe it was simpler than that. A farm wife, despite knowing Cora as a person and friend, could not compete against the allure of learned experts — even ones who knew her only as a body. The newspapers wanted to hear from doctors and scientists, so that’s who they put on the front page.
Continue reading “Cora: Until the Corn Grew Too High to See Them (9)”
Read the full Cora Stallman series here.
Friday-Sunday, Aug. 7-9, 1925. Coles County, IL.
On Friday morning, Edith Lilley hit her limit.
The question of how Cora Stallman did, or did not, die had hung over the Lilleys’ farm for a week. It pulled Edith’s husband, Bos, out of bed early the Saturday before, and brought him hustling back home for the telephone. It barged into their conversations and upset their schedules. It kept both of them from sleeping.1 It was a heavy summer haze, hanging over everything. A body could hardly move under it all.
Continue reading “Cora: How Deceptive Appearances May Be (7)”
Read the full Cora Stallman series here.
Wednesday, Aug. 5, 1925. Coles County, IL.
By August 5, Cora Stallman had been dead for five days, but investigators seemed no closer to finding out how that had happened. The truth continued to evade them like a silver fish in a summer pond, always a second beyond their grasp.
Continue reading “Cora: The Bullet Hole (5)”
The farmer takes a husband.
Whatever path Cora Stallman followed into Coles County, Illinois, it was her older sister Anna who had cleared the way.
Anna must have been formidable. I’ve only found one photo of her, and you can barely see her face. At Cora’s inquest in late August 1925, she told the news photographers not to take her picture — and they obeyed.1
Continue reading “Cora: Anna and Thomas (4)”
More evidence than answers.
Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 3-4, 1925. Mattoon, IL.
Cattle and crops can’t go untended, so it didn’t raise eyebrows when Anna and Thomas Seaman returned from Cincinnati immediately after Cora Stallman’s funeral. She was buried on Monday afternoon, Aug. 3; they were back in Mattoon that night.
Perhaps more unusual: Once they returned, Thomas took to his bed.1
Continue reading “Cora: People Are Talking (3)”